FDsys makes America's documents immediate and permanent

Federal Digital System
Government Printing Office
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For the past 196 years, the Government Printing Office has performed the function its name suggests, acting as the print shop for the federal government. As documents are increasingly rendered in electronic form, GPO has kept pace by offering electronic versions of official documents. The Federal Digital System (FDsys), the first iteration of which went live earlier this year, offers the public access to documents from all three branches of government through a single portal. It is a Web site of sweeping scope.

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"We serve a very broad market. We serve the general public, the library community, the research community,” Public Printer Robert Tapella said. “Each of those segments has different views of what is the right way for the system to support their needs."

Before creating FDsys, GPO conducted extensive focus-group studies to determine what users needed in terms of functionality. Officials also consulted usability experts to help design an effective interface, Tapella said, and then tested proposed interfaces with more focus groups.

FDsys hosts all the documents agencies and Congress send to GPO for printing and distribution. It will also permanently archive noteworthy documents that agencies post on their own Web sites and important historical documents. FDsys now posts congressional bills, documents and hearing testimonies; documents from the Federal Register; and bills and laws enacted since the 104th Congress.

Agencies and Congress can submit official electronic files to FDsys with digital certificates, which allow GPO to maintain a chain of custody that can be traced back to the documents’ originators. GPO will maintain that chain of custody so later users will be assured that the document hasn't been altered or corrupted in any way, said Mike Wash, GPO’s chief information officer.

For users, FDsys’ search capability is more nuanced than its predecessor, GPO Access. For instance, visitors can search by congressional committee or member of Congress and refine the results by keyword and date. New features and services will be added in the next few years.

The site also offers a daily online publication covering the president's orders, statements and remarks — the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents. Contributed by the Office of the Federal Register, it uses material from the White House Press Office.

Furthermore, the system addresses long-term archiving issues, with particular attention paid to document formats. It uses the International Organization for Standardization’s Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System, which establishes a procedure for moving documents to next-generation formats. Each document will have an archival information package with instructions on preparing the material for a new format.

"As formats change and tools change in the future, the information is in a form that it can be repurposed for future needs," Wash said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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